Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Tip 8 from Best Practices are Stupid. This one further explores the needs for open innovation.

A well-known healthcare company, after launching an incredibly successful new product, turned their attention to creating new complementary offerings. Multiple failed attempts later, they came to realize they didn’t have the in-house expertise to crack the code. Not knowing what to do, they decided to try posting the challenge on an open innovation website. Their hope was that they could find someone outside their organization who could find a practical solution.

Unfortunately, some employees took this action as a slap in the face. Unfamiliar with the benefits of open innovation, they felt that someone within the organization could solve every challenge. To prove their point, several employees took it upon themselves to submit solutions to the posted challenge.

In the end, the solutions submitted by the employees weren’t chosen. The breakthrough answer came from someone not only outside of the company, but outside of the company’s industry. The successful conclusion of this challenge solidified the company’s decision to formally launch their open innovation efforts. Their conclusion?

No one person can solve every problem.

And it’s corollary: No one organization can solve every problem.

The late, great Will Rogers once said, “There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing that he was educated in.”

One of the challenges with driving innovation in organizations is that smart people are often more interested in being right than doing right.  That is, they want to believe that they can solve every problem under the sun.  This pervasive belief can circumvent your innovation efforts.

To be clear, the objective of open innovation is not to replace the smarts you already have in your organization.  It is to augment this brilliance.

Here’s a simple model I use to help companies determine which challenges should be solved externally, versus those that can be solved internally. Broadly speaking, challenges fall into roughly three categories (these are summarized for space):

Simple Challenges:  Challenges where there is a high probability that someone else has already solved this specific problem.

Complex or Unsolved Challenges: Challenges that are exceptionally complex and may have remained unsolved within your organization for years.

Challenges Within Your Discipline: The challenges that fall into the sweet spot of your organization.  These are the challenges that your experts are best equipped to solve.

People want to be (and should be) appreciated for their brilliance.  They have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge.  But everyone cannot be educated in everything.  Figure out what you (and your organization) do best, and find others to help with everything else.

Or, to quote Will Rogers again, “Everybody is ignorant. Only on different subjects.”

[This is a highly condensed version of the original text]

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